Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Just when I start thinking it’s time to put a moratorium on acquiring new pasta recipes when I have so damn many already, I keep stumbling across new ones full of exciting ingredients: first fennel, then kale, and now pears! It took me a while to work up the gumption to try this unusual pasta sauce (another great find from the Meat Lite column at Serious Eats), but I’m certainly glad I did. Of course pork is often complemented by fruit, so I knew the pears would work out well, but I was still surprised by how well the three main ingredients, spiked with sherry, broth, and vinegar, melted into such a rich, savory sauce. As promised, it felt satisfyingly meaty even though it contained only a small portion of pork (it breaks down into tiny bits and permeates the sauce). A enthused that it might be his favorite pasta recipe. My reaction was more along the lines of “this is pretty good”; I enjoyed making and eating it, but there are a lot of pasta recipes that I prefer, most of them meatless. Even though there were a lot of flavors involved, the end result tasted so uniformly brown to me. I might experiment with brightening it up with parsley or lemon at the end. Still, if you’re looking for something to shake up your usual pasta routine or want to impress dinner guests with your gourmet cooking skillz—or if you just want something warming and hearty but not gut-busting on a cold winter night—this pasta will give you a complex dish with very little effort.

There was one flaw in the recipe as written: It called for 2 tablespoons of olive oil; 1 tablespoon was used in Step 1, but the second was never mentioned. I just used both tablespoons in Step 1, but that looked like too much. My pork got nice and crispy and browned, but then the pan seemed a bit dry in subsequent steps. One of the Serious Eats commenters said they added it with the mushrooms, so I’ve gone ahead and written it into Step 2 below. That was my only real deviation from the recipe. My sauce did seem a bit over-liquidy even after 30 minutes of simmering, so I took the lid off and raised the heat to try to reduce it further, but then once I put the pasta in, it seemed a little dry and I had to add pasta water, so really I should probably have followed the recipe more closely in that regard. I have noted below that you might want to reserve some pasta water, though, just in case.

I used homemade chicken broth and a red D’Anjou pear, both of which worked well for me. The original recipe says you can use white button mushrooms, but I really think you should go with the brown cremini (as I nearly always do when mushrooms are called for).

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
¼ pound ground pork
2 large shallots, finely chopped (½ cup)
½ pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 large pear (about 10 ounces), diced small
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
¼ cup dry sherry
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1½ cups mushroom, vegetable, or chicken broth
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound penne pasta
Freshly grated or shaved Parmesan cheese to taste

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, high-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook to brown, about 5–7 minutes, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Add the shallots and sauté an additional 2–3 minutes.

2. Add other tablespoon of oil and the mushrooms to the pork and shallots; sauté 5–7 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to brown and soften. Stir in the pear and garlic, cooking for another 2–3 minutes.

3. Pour in the sherry and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the liquid sizzles. Let the sherry reduce until it is almost dry. Add the thyme, broth, and vinegar, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, for 20–30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. While the sauce simmers, cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and toss with the sauce, adding pasta water if needed to moisten. Top each serving with grated Parmesan to taste.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good.

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